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Racist Referees

Mike Denness is not doing anything new. ICC referees have always held a different set of rules for the whites and the non-whites.

Racist Referees
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"Racialists do not ever want the eyes of the world on their crimes"

C.L.R.James

Whatever garb the ICC tries to give it, actions of English match referee Mike Denness are evidences of blatant and outrageous racism. The hauling of Virender Sehwag for over-appealing when Shaun Pollock has taught the Indians how to win verdicts with appeals lasting till eternity, the game has become a cauldron of racial hatred. Saurav continues to be at the receiving end when Pollock and Steve Waugh often escape scot-free.

If Deep Dasgupta, Harbhajan Singh and Shiv Sundar Das receive suspended sentences, one wonders what the match referee was doing when Kallis or Pollock were uttering the sweetest of words for V.V.S Laxman. Finally, when it comes to Virender Sehwag (served a one match suspension with immediate effect), words fail to express the anger one feels at such an unjust punishment.

What renders the situation a greater complexity is the inability of the authorities to do anything about this plaguing evil. However, with the BCCI pressing the ICC for a change in the match referee for the final test scheduled to start on Friday, the 23rd, at Centurion Park, one does see a glimmer of hope that justice might be meted out. Going by the tenor of the declarations issued at the press conference summoned by the BCCI President, the ICC is for once in a tight spot. How it manages to hold on to its under-cover racist attitudes will attract the attention of the cricket world for the next few days.

Anyone with even a limited knowledge of the ICC's history will find it difficult to expect any justice from this body,
which, history reveals has itself fostered a racist attitude. Its policies had almost resulted in the creation of a permanent fissure in the cricket world during the anti-apartheid campaign in the 1960s.

With the colored world up in arms against South Africa's racist policy, urging the ICC to ban the springboks from Test cricket, the ICC, with tacit support from the white bloc, continued to defer its decision on the subject for more than a couple of years. Negating persistent pressure from the Asians the ICC had allowed the Australians and New Zealanders to
undertake official tours of South Africa in 1963-64.

Even recent memory bears testimony to the ICC's indulgence to white players. In the India Australia test series played earlier this year, Michael Slater had clearly abused Rahul Dravid for standing his ground in the first test ignoring Slater's appeal for a catch. This was after television replays had demonstrated that the ball had hit the ground before being caught. The match referee, as on most occasions, did not bother to pull up a white sportsman for bringing the game to disrepute.

There are many such instances that have shocked the cricket enthusiasts of the sub-continent over the last five years. What match referees have forgotten is that in trying to pull people up for bringing the game into disrepute, they are themselves doing grave injustice to the game.

Even the attitude of the touring English team about the ongoing tour also smells of rampant racism. Even before the tour had started security advisors and delegations had visited the country to oversee arrangements. It was as if they had forgotten that the empire had ceased to exist for over fifty years now. One wonders why, despite assurances from the Indian Board, a security officer has been appointed by the ECB to accompany the English team on the tour. The reason given is that he would tackle security issues if they do emerge.

A security problem - if it does break out -- can hardly be averted by this lone individual is a truth any sensible administrative body will find hard to ignore!

One often wonders about the root cause behind the sudden increase of racist incidents in the cricket world. Is it to do with the changing dynamics of the game (read shift in the game's nerve center to the sub-continent), or is it something that continues to exist for over half a decade? Deeper probe reveals that it is part of both. While racist attitudes have been fostered for over five decades, incidents of racial discrimination have certainly been on the ascendancy over the last decade.

Racism, it may be surmised, is becoming all the more rampant because India (read the subcontinent) has successfully usurped the white world's place as the leader of the cricket world in the 1990s, a fact hardly ever acknowledged by the whites. The vacant grounds in South Africa, where children need to be invited to watch the game speaks of the sad plight of cricket in these countries.

The ongoing English tour, one can safely argue, would have been called off had the BCCI under Dalmiya not made its presence felt. The words of caution that India may send a second string side to England next summer was enough to make any such plans of the ECB bite the dust. They were almost forced to continue with the tour fearing massive financial losses, which they would hardly have been able to meet.

To compound problems, in both England and South Africa, cricket has long ceased to be the national sport. While rugby, soccer or even tennis rank higher than cricket in the English sporting hierarchy, rugby has by far outstripped cricket in popularity in the land of the Springboks, facts they have hardly been able to digest.

The recent actions of the whites may thus be read as attempts to demonstrate their control over the cricket world. They are vain attempts to prove that they are still the arbiters of a crisis ridden cricket world in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11. Despite all its woes, Pakistan has refused to shift its games to foreign soil, knowing fully well that its players will hardly fancy playing to empty galleries, a fact demonstrative of the plight of cricket in the white world.

Accordingly, it can be safely stated that whatever the white world does will not be enough to camouflage the truth. The truth, and a potent one at that, is- India and the sub-continent are the game's present and its future, cricket in the white world may as well be dead without support from them. The empire, once strengthened by using cricket as an imperial tool has turned on its head, the sub-continent are the arbiters and Englishmen (Mike Deness included) mere subjects as far as the fortunes of the 'gentleman's game' are concerned.

Cricket, as Ashis Nandy had argued in his Tao of Cricket, is truly an Indian game accidentally discovered in England.


(Boria Majumdar is a cricket historian, currently doing his research work at Oxford)

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